Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place

by M. K. Gandhi

Editor’s Preface: We are presenting here the full text of Gandhi’s Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place, published on March 11, 1941 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House). Although for decades he had been airing these views, this last version consolidated his ideas into something of a manifesto that, he hoped, would shape the campaigns and purpose of his later years. Gandhi conceived of satyagraha as having two branches, the Constructive Programme and nonviolent Civil Disobedience, and after decades of civil resistance campaigns had increasingly turned his attention to social action, local community development, self-improvement schemes, education and the like, which he attempts to codify here. Although this pamphlet was written and published near the end of his life, Gandhi had already articulated these views, as early as his South African campaigns, and before his return to India in 1918. The Constructive Programme also had a profound influence on the post-Gandhian, Indian nonviolent movement, now referred to, somewhat misleadingly, as the Sarvodaya Movement, although it was many movements interpreting Gandhi in diverse ways. See also the textual note at the end of the article, for further bibliographical information. JG


Cover of first printing; courtesy

The constructive programme may otherwise and more fittingly be called construction of Poorna Swaraj or Complete Independence by truthful and nonviolent means. (1) Efforts for the construction of Independence so called through violent and, therefore, necessarily untruthful means we know only too painfully. Look at the daily destruction of property, life, and truth in the present war.

Complete Independence through truth and nonviolence means the independence of every unit, be it the humblest of the nation, without distinction of race, colour or creed. This independence is never exclusive. It is, therefore, wholly compatible with interdependence within or without. Practice will always fall short of theory even as the drawn line falls short of the theoretical line of Euclid. Therefore, complete Independence will be complete only to the extent of our approach in practice to truth and nonviolence.

Let the reader mentally plan out the whole of the constructive programme, and he will agree with me that, if it could be successfully worked out, the end of it would be the Independence we want. Has not the Colonial Secretary Leo Amery said that any agreement between the major parties will be respected? We need not question his sincerity, for, if such unity is honestly, i.e., nonviolently, attained, it will in itself contain the power to compel acceptance of the agreed demand.

On the other hand there is no such thing as an imaginary or even perfect definition of Independence through violence. For it presupposes only ascendancy of that party of the nation which makes the most effective use of violence. In it perfect equality, economic or otherwise, is inconceivable.

But for my purpose, which is to convince the reader of the necessity of following out the constructive programme in the nonviolent effort, the acceptance of my argument about the ineffectiveness of violence for the attainment of independence is not required. The reader is welcome to the belief that Independence of the humblest unit is possible under the scheme of violence, if this effort enables him also to admit it is a certainty through the complete execution of the programme by the nation.

Let us now examine the items.

Communal Unity

Everybody is agreed about the necessity of this unity. But everybody does not know that unity does not mean political unity which may be imposed. It means the unity as of an unbreakable heart. The first thing essential for achieving such unity is for every Congress Party member, whatever his religion may be, to represent, in his own person Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jew, etc., in short, every Hindu and non-Hindu. He has to feel his identity with every one of the millions of inhabitants of Hindustan. In order to realize this, every Congressman will cultivate personal friendship with persons representing faiths other than his own. He should have the same regard for the other faiths as he has for his own.

In such a happy state of things, there would be no disgraceful cry at the stations such as ‘Hindu water’ and ‘Muslim water’ or ‘Hindu tea’ and ‘Muslim tea’. There would be no separate rooms or pots for Hindus and non-Hindus in schools and colleges, no communal schools, colleges and hospitals. The beginning of such a revolution has to be made by Congressmen without any political motive behind the correct conduct. Political unity will be its natural fruit.

Civil Disobedience is the storehouse of power.

We have long been accustomed to think that power comes only through legislative assemblies. I have regarded this belief as a grave error brought about by inertia or hypnotism. A superficial study of British history has made us think that all power percolates to the people from parliaments. The truth is that power resides in the people and it is entrusted for the time being to those whom they may choose as their representatives. Parliaments have no power or even existence independently of the people. It has been my effort for the last twenty-one years to convince the people of this simple truth. Civil Disobedience is the storehouse of power. Imagine a whole people unwilling to conform to the laws of the legislature, and prepared to suffer the consequences of non-compliance! They would bring the whole legislative and executive machinery to a standstill. The police and the military would coerce minorities however powerful they might be. But no police or military coercion can bend the resolute will of a people who are prepared for suffering to the uttermost.

And parliamentary procedure is good only when its members are willing to conform to the will of the majority. In other words, it is fairly effective only among those who are compatible.

Here in India we have been pretending to work the parliamentary system under separate electorates which have created artificial incompatibles. Living unity can never come out of these artificial entities being brought together on a common platform. Such legislatures may function. But they can only be a platform for wrangling and sharing the crumbs of power that may fall from rulers whoever they may be. These rule with a rod of iron, and prevent the opposing elements from flying at one another’s throats. I hold the emergence of complete Independence to be an impossibility given such a disgrace. Though I hold such strong views, I have come to the conclusion that so long as there are undesirable candidates for elective bodies, Congress should put up candidates in order to prevent reactionaries from entering such bodies.

Removal of Untouchability

At this time of the day it is unnecessary to dilate upon the necessity of the removal of this blot and curse upon Hinduism. Congressmen have certainly done much in this matter. But I am sorry to have to say that many Congressmen have looked upon this item as a mere political necessity and not something indispensable, so far as Hindus are concerned, for the very existence of Hinduism. If Hindu Congressmen take up the cause for its own sake, they will influence the so-called Sanatanis [Hindu reformists] far more extensively than they have hitherto done. They should approach them not in a militant spirit but as befits their nonviolence, in a spirit of friendliness. And so far as the Harijans [untouchables] are concerned, every Hindu should make common cause with them and befriend them in their awful isolation, such isolation as perhaps the world has never seen in the monstrous immensity one witnesses in India. I know from experience how difficult the task is. But it is part of the task of building the edifice of Swaraj. And the road to Swaraj is steep and narrow. There are many slippery ascents and many deep chasms. They have all to be negotiated with unfaltering step before we can reach the summit and breathe the fresh air of freedom.


Although, like communal unity and removal of untouchability prohibition has been on the Congress programme since 1920, Congressmen have not taken the interest they might have taken in this very vital social and moral reform. If we are to reach our goal through nonviolent effort, we cannot leave to future government the fate of countless thousands of men and women who are labouring under the curse of intoxicants and narcotics.

Medical men can make a most effective contribution towards the removal of this evil. They have to discover ways of weaning the drunkard and the opium-addict from the curse.

Women and students have a special opportunity in advancing this reform. By many acts of loving service they can acquire on addicts a hold which will compel them to listen to the appeal to give up the evil habit.

Congress committees can open recreation booths where the tired labourer will rest his limbs, get healthy and cheap refreshments, find suitable games. All this work is fascinating and uplifting. The nonviolent approach to Swaraj is a novel approach. In it old values give place to new. In the violent way such reforms may find no place. Believers in. that way, in their impatience and, shall I say, ignorance, put off such things to the day of deliverance. They forget that lasting and healthy deliverance comes from within, i.e. from self-purification. Constructive workers make legal prohibition easy and successful even if they do not pave the way for it.


Khadi [homespun] is a controversial subject. Many people think that in advocating khadi I am sailing against a headwind and am sure to sink the ship of Swaraj and that I am taking the country to the dark ages. I do not propose to argue the case for khadi in this brief survey. I have argued this sufficiently elsewhere. Here I want to show what every Congressman, and for that matter every Indian, can do to advance the cause of khadi. It connotes the beginning of economic freedom and equality of all in the country. ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ Let everyone try to find out the truth of what I am saying. Khadi must be taken with all its implications. It means a wholesale Swadeshi mentality, a determination to find all the necessaries of life in India and that too through the labour and intellect of the villagers. That means a reversal of the existing process. That is to say that, instead of half a dozen cities of India and Great Britain living on the exploitation and the ruin of the 7,000,000 villages of India, the latter will be largely self-contained, and will voluntarily serve the cities of India and even the outside world in so far as it benefits both the parties.

This needs a revolutionary change in the mentality and tastes of many. Easy though the nonviolent way is in many respects, it is very difficult in many others. It vitally touches the life of every single Indian, makes him feel aglow with the possession of a power that has lain hidden within himself, and makes him proud of his identity with every drop of the ocean of Indian humanity. This nonviolence is not the inanity for which we have mistaken it through all these long ages; it is the most potent force as yet known to mankind and on which mankind’s very existence is dependent It is that force which I have tried to present to the Congress and through it to the world. Khadi to me is the symbol of unity of Indian humanity, of its economic freedom and equality and, ultimately, in the poetic expression of Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘the livery of India’s freedom’.

Moreover, khadi mentality means decentralization of the production and distribution of the necessaries of life. Therefore, the formula so far evolved is, every village to produce all its necessaries and a certain percentage in addition for the requirements of the cities.

Heavy industries will need be centralized and nationalized. But they will occupy the least part of the vast national activity, which will mainly be in the villages.

Having explained the implications of khadi, I must indicate what Congressmen can and should do towards its promotion. Production of khadi includes cotton growing, picking, ginning [separating the cotton fibre from the seeds], cleaning, carding, slivering [dividing the strands], spinning, sizing, dyeing, preparing the warp and the woof, weaving, and washing. These, with the exception of dyeing, are essential processes. Every one of them can be effectively handled in the villages and is being so handled in many villages throughout India which the A.I.S.A [All India Spinner’s Association] is covering. According to the latest report the following are interesting figures: 2,750,146 villagers, including 19,645 Harijans and 57,378 Muslims, scattered in at least 13,451 villages, received, as spinners and weavers, Rupees 34,850,609 in 1940 [c. US$ 2,300,000]. The spinners were largely women.

Yet the work done is only one-hundredth part of what could be done if Congressmen honestly took up the khadi programme. Since the wanton destruction of this central village industry and the allied handicrafts, intelligence and brightness have fled from the villages, leaving them inane, lustreless, and reduced almost to the state of their ill-kept cattle.

If Congressmen will be true to their Congress call in respect of khadi, they will carry out the instructions of the A.I.S.A issued from time to time as to the part they can play in khadi planning. Only a few broad rules can be laid down here:

1.  Every family with a plot of ground can grow cotton at least for family use. Cotton growing is an easy process. In Bihar the cultivators were by law compelled to grow indigo on 3/20 of their cultivatable land. This was in the interest of the foreign indigo planter. Why cannot we grow cotton voluntarily for the nation on a certain portion of our land? The reader will note that decentralization commences from the beginning of the khadi process. Today the cotton crop is centralized and has to be sent to distant parts of India. Before the war it used to be sent principally to Britain and Japan. It was, and still is, a money crop, subject to the fluctuations of the market. Under the khadi scheme, cotton growing becomes free from this uncertainty and gamble. The grower grows what he needs. The farmer needs to know that his first business is to grow for his own need. When he does that, he will reduce the chance of a low market ruining him.

Gandhi at handloom; courtesy of

2.  If he has not his own, every spinner would buy enough cotton for ginning, which he can easily do without the hand-ginning roller frame. He can gin his own portion with a board and an iron rolling pin. Where this is considered impractical, hand-ginned cotton should be bought and carded. Carding for private use can be easily done on a tiny bow without much effort. The greater the decentralization of labour the simpler and cheaper the tools. The slivers made, the process of spinning commences. I strongly recommend the dhanush takli [a small hand loom]. I have used it frequently. My speed on it is almost the same as on the wheel. I draw a finer thread and the strength and evenness of the yarn are greater on the dhanush takli than on the wheel. This may not, however, hold good for all. My emphasis on the dhanush takli is based on the fact that it is more easily made, is cheaper than and does not require frequent repairs like the wheel. Unless one knows how to make the two mats and to adjust them when they slip or to put the wheel right when it refuses to work, the wheel has often to lie idle. Moreover, if millions take to spinning at once, as they well may have to, the dhanush takli, being the instrument most easily made and handled, is the only tool that can meet the demand. It is more easily made even than the simple takli. The best, easiest and cheapest way is to make it oneself. Indeed one ought to learn how to handle and make simple tools. Imagine the unifying and educative effect of the whole nation simultaneously taking part in the processes preceding spinning! Consider the levelling effect of the bond of common labour between the rich and the poor!

Yarn produced by this small handloom may be used three ways: it can, of course, be woven for personal use, or offered to the A.I.S.A. for the sake of the poor, or it can be combined with cloth woven on spinning wheels (khadi) for commercial sale. It is clear enough that the finer and better the yarn the greater will be its value. If Congressmen will put their heart into the work, they will make improvements in the tools and make many discoveries. In our country there has been a divorce between labour and intelligence. The result has been stagnation. If there is an indissoluble marriage between the two, and that in the manner here suggested, the resultant good will be inestimable.

In this scheme of nation-wide spinning as a sacrifice, I do not expect the average man or woman to give more than one hour daily to this work.

Other Village Industries

These stand on a different footing from khadi: there is not much scope for voluntary labour in them. Each industry will take the labour of only a certain number of hands. These industries are a handmaid to khadi. They cannot exist without khadi, and khadi will be robbed of its dignity without them. Village economy cannot be complete without the essential village industries such as hand grinding, hand pounding, soap making, papermaking, match making, tanning, and oil pressing. Congressmen can interest themselves in these and, if they are villagers or will settle down in villages, they will give these industries a new life and a new dress. All should make it a point of honour to use only village articles whenever and wherever available. Given the demand there is no doubt that most of our wants can be supplied from our villages. When we have become village-minded, we will not want imitations of the West or machine-made products, but we will develop a true national taste in keeping with the vision of a new India in which pauperism, starvation and idleness will be unknown.

Village Sanitation

Divorce between intelligence and labour has resulted in criminal neglect of the villages. And so, instead of having graceful hamlets dotting the land, we have dung heaps. The approach to many villages is not a refreshing experience. Often one would like to shut one’s eyes and stuff one’s nose, such is the surrounding dirt and offending smell. If the majority of Congressmen were derived from our villages, as they should be, they should be able to make our villages models of cleanliness in every sense of the word. But they have never considered it their duty to identify themselves with the villagers in their daily lives. A sense of national or social sanitation is not a virtue among us. We may take a kind of a bath, but we do not mind dirtying the well or the tank or the river by whose side or in which we perform ablutions. I regard this defect as a great vice which is responsible for the disgraceful state of our villages and the sacred banks of the sacred rivers and for the diseases that spring from insanitation.

New or Basic Education

This is a new subject. But the members of the Working Committee felt so much interested in it that they gave a charter to the organisers of the Hindustani Talimi Sangh (2) which has been functioning since the Haripura session [a village in Gujarat]. This is a big field of work for many Congressmen. This education is meant to transform village children into model villagers. It is principally designed for them. The inspiration for it has come from the villages. Congressmen who want to build up the structure of Swaraj [self-sufficiency] from its very foundation dare not neglect the children. Foreign rule has unconsciously, though none the less surely, begun with the children in the field of education. Primary education is a farce designed without regard to the wants of the India of the villages and for that matter even of the cities. Basic education links the children, whether of the cities or the villages, to all that is best and lasting in India. It develops both the body and the mind, and keeps the child rooted to the soil with a glorious vision of the future in the realisation of which he or she begins to take his or her share from the very commencement of his or her career in school. Congressmen would find it of absorbing interest benefiting themselves equally with the children with whom they come in contact: Let those who wish put themselves in touch with the Secretary of the Sangh at Sevagram. (3)

Adult Education

Nonviolence abhors fear and, therefore, secrecy.

This has been woefully neglected by Congressmen. Where they have not neglected it, they have been satisfied with teaching illiterates to read and write. If I had charge of adult education, I should begin with opening the minds of the adult pupils to the greatness and vastness of their country. The villager’s India is contained in his village. If he goes to another village, he talks of his own village as his home. Hindustan is for him a geographical term. We have no notion of the ignorance prevailing in the villages. The villagers know nothing of foreign rule and its evils. What little knowledge they have picked up fills them with the awe the foreigner inspires. The result is the dread and hatred of the foreigner and his rule. They do not know how to get rid of it. They do not know that the foreigner’s presence is due to their own weaknesses and ignorance of the power they possess to rid themselves of the foreign rule. My adult education means, therefore, first, true political education of the adult by word of mouth. Seeing that this will be mapped out, it can be given without fear. I imagine that it is too late in the day for the [British] authorities to interfere with this type of education; but if there is interference, there must be a fight for this elementary right without which there can be no Swaraj. Of course, in all I have written, openness has been assumed. Nonviolence abhors fear and, therefore, secrecy. Side by side with oral education will be literary education. This is itself a specialty. Many methods are being tried in order to shorten the period of education. A temporary or permanent board of experts may be appointed by the Working Committee to give shape to the idea here adumbrated and guide the workers. I admit that what I have said in this paragraph only points the way but does not tell the average Congressman how to go about it. Nor is every Congressman fitted for this highly special work. But Congressmen who are teachers should find no difficulty in laying down a course in keeping with the suggestions made herein.


I have included service of women in the constructive programme, for though Satyagraha has automatically brought India’s women out from their darkness, as nothing else could have in such an incredibly short space of time, Congressmen have not felt the call to see that women became equal partners in the fight for Swaraj. They have not realized that woman must be the true helpmate of man in the mission of service. Woman has been suppressed under custom and law for which man was responsible and in the shaping of which she had no hand. In a plan of life based on nonviolence, woman has as much right to shape her own destiny as man has to shape his. But as every right in a nonviolent society proceeds from the previous performance of a duty, it follows that rules of social conduct must be framed by mutual cooperation and consultation. They can never be imposed from outside. Men have not realized this truth in its fullness in their behaviour towards women. They have considered themselves to be lords and masters of women instead of considering them as their friends and co-workers. It is the privilege of Congressmen to give the women of India a lifting hand. Women are in the position somewhat of the slave of old who did not know that he could or ever had to be free. And when freedom came, for the moment he felt helpless. Women have been taught to regard themselves as slaves of men. It is up to Congressmen to see that they enable women to realize their full status and play their part as equals of men.

This revolution is easy, if the mind is made up. Let Congressmen begin with their own homes. Wives should not be dolls and objects of indulgence, but should be treated as honoured comrades in common service. To this end those who have not received a liberal education should receive such instruction as is possible from their husbands. The same observation applies, with the necessary changes, to mothers and daughters.

It is hardly necessary to point out that I have given a one-sided picture of the helpless state of India’s women. I am quite conscious of the fact that in the villages generally they hold their own with their men folk and in some respects even rule them. But to the impartial outsider the legal and customary status of woman is bad enough throughout and demands radical alteration.

Education in Health and Hygiene

Having given a place to village sanitation, the question may be asked why give a separate place to education in health and hygiene? It might have been bracketed with sanitation, but I did not wish to interfere with the items. Mention of mere sanitation is not enough to include health and hygiene. The art of keeping one’s health and the knowledge of hygiene is by itself a separate subject of study and corresponding practice. In a well-ordered society the citizens know and observe the laws of health and hygiene. It is established beyond doubt that ignorance and neglect of the laws of health and hygiene are responsible for the majority of diseases to which mankind is heir. The very high death rate among us is no doubt due largely to our gnawing poverty, but it could be mitigated if the people were properly educated about health and hygiene.

Mens sana in corpore sano is perhaps the first law for humanity. A healthy mind in a healthy body is a self-evident truth. There is an inevitable connection between mind and body. If we were in possession of healthy minds, we would shed all violence and, naturally obeying the laws of health, we would have healthy bodies without an effort. I hope, therefore, that no Congressman will disregard this item of the constructive programme. The fundamental laws of health and hygiene are simple and easily learnt. The difficulty is about their observance. Here are some:

  • Think the purest thoughts and banish all idle and impure thoughts.
  • Breathe the freshest air day and night.
  • Establish a balance between bodily and mental work.
  • Stand erect, sit erect, and be neat and clean in every one of your acts, and let these be an expression of your inner condition.
  • Eat to live for service of fellowmen. Do not live for indulging yourselves. Hence your food must be just enough to keep your mind and body in good order. Man becomes what he eats.
  • Your water, food and air must be clean, and you will not be satisfied with mere personal cleanliness, but you will instill into your surroundings the same three-fold cleanliness that you desire for yourselves.

Provincial Languages

Our love of the English language in preference to our own mother tongue has caused a deep chasm between the educated and politically-minded classes and the masses. The languages of India have suffered impoverishment. We flounder when we make the vain attempt to express abstruse thought in the mother tongue. There are no equivalents for scientific terms. The result has been disastrous. The masses remain cut off from the modern mind. We are too near our own times correctly to measure the disservice caused to India by this neglect of its great languages. It is easy enough to understand that, unless we undo the mischief, the mass mind must remain imprisoned. The masses can make no solid contribution to the construction of Swaraj. It is inherent in Swaraj based on nonviolence that every individual makes his own direct contribution to the Independence movement. The masses cannot do this fully unless they understand every step with all its implications. This is impossible unless every step is explained in their own languages.

National Language

And then for all-India intercourse we need, from among the Indian stock, a language which the largest number of people already know and understand and which the others can easily pick up. This language is indisputably Hindi. It is spoken and understood by both Hindus and Muslims of the North. It is called Urdu when it is written in the Urdu character. The Congress, in its famous resolution passed at the Cawnpore session in 1925, called this all-India speech Hindustani. And since that time, in theory at least, Hindustani has been the Rashtra Bhasha [official national language]. I say ‘in theory’ because even Congressmen have not practised it as they should. In 1920 a deliberate attempt was begun to recognize the importance of Indian languages for the political education of the masses, and also of an all-India common speech which politically minded India could easily speak and which Congressmen from the different provinces could understand at all-India, Congress party gatherings. Such a national language should enable one to understand and speak both forms of speech and write in both the scripts.

I am sorry to have to say that many Congressmen have failed to carry out that resolution. And so we have, in my opinion, the shameful spectacle of Congressmen insisting on speaking in English and compelling others to do likewise for their sakes. The spell that English has cast on us is not yet broken. Being under it, we are impeding the progress of India towards her goal. Our love of the masses must be skin deep, if we will not take the trouble of spending as many months over learning Hindustani as the years we spend over learning English.

Economic Equality

Economic equality means the levelling down of the few rich
in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation’s wealth on the one hand,
and the levelling up of the semi-starved naked millions on the other.

This is the master key to nonviolent Independence. Working for economic equality means abolishing the eternal conflict between capital and labour. It means the levelling down of the few rich in whose hands is concentrated the bulk of the nation’s wealth on the one hand, and the levelling up of the semi-starved naked millions on the other. A nonviolent system of government is clearly an impossibility so long as the wide gulf between the rich and the hungry millions persists. The contrast between the palaces of New Delhi and the miserable hovels of the poor labouring class nearby cannot last one day in a free India in which the poor will enjoy the same power as the richest in the land. A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches, and the power that riches give, and a sharing of them for the common good.

A violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches, and the power that riches give, and a sharing of them for the common good.

I adhere to my doctrine of trusteeship in spite of the ridicule that has been poured upon it. It is true that it is difficult to reach. So is nonviolence. But we made up our minds in 1920 to negotiate that steep ascent. We have found it worth the effort. It involves a daily growing appreciation of the working of nonviolence. It is expected that Congressmen will make a diligent search and reason out for themselves the why and the wherefore of nonviolence. They should ask themselves how the existing inequalities can be abolished violently or nonviolently. I think we know the violent way. It has not succeeded anywhere.

This nonviolent experiment is still in the making. We have nothing much yet to show by way of demonstration. It is certain, however, that the method has begun to work though ever so slowly in the direction of equality. And since nonviolence is a process of conversion, the conversion, if achieved, must be permanent. A society or a nation constructed nonviolently must be able to withstand attack upon its structure from without or within. We have moneyed Congressmen in the organisation. They have to lead the way. This fight provides an opportunity for the closest heart-searching on the part of every individual Congressman. If ever we are to achieve equality, the foundation has to be laid now. Those who think that the major reforms will come after the advent of Swaraj are deceiving themselves as to the elementary working of nonviolent Swaraj. It will not drop from heaven all of a sudden one fine morning. But it has to be built up brick by brick by corporate self-effort. We have travelled a fair way in that direction. But a much longer and weary distance has to be covered before we can behold Swaraj in its glorious majesty. Every Congressman has to ask himself what he has done towards the attainment of economic equality.


The programme is not exhaustive. Swaraj is a mighty structure. Eight hundred million hands have to work at building it. Of these kisans [farmers; the peasantry] are the largest part. In fact, being the bulk of them (probably over 80%) the kisans should be the Congress. But they are not. When they become conscious of their nonviolent strength, no power on earth can resist them.

They must not be used for power politics. I consider it to be contrary to the nonviolent method. Those who would know my methods of organising kisans may profitably study the movement in Champaran when Satyagraha was tried for the first time in India with the result all India knows. It became a mass movement which remained wholly nonviolent from start to finish. It affected over twenty million kisans. The struggle centered round one specific grievance which was a century old. There had been several violent revolts to get rid of the grievance. The kisans were suppressed. The nonviolent remedy succeeded in full in six months. The kisans of Champaran became politically conscious without any direct effort. (4) The tangible proof they had of the working of nonviolence to remove their grievance drew them to the Congress, and led by Babu Brijkishoreprasad and Babu Rajendra Prasad they gave a good account of themselves during the past Civil Disobedience campaigns. (5)

The reader may also profitably study the kisan movements in Kheda, Bardoli and Borsad [Gujarat villages]. The secret of success lies in a refusal to exploit the kisans for political purposes outside their own personal and heartfelt grievances. Organisation round a specific wrong they understand. They need no sermons on nonviolence. Let them learn to apply nonviolence as an effective remedy which they can understand, and later when they are told that the method they were applying was nonviolent, they readily recognize it as such.

From these illustrations Congressmen who care could study how work can be done for and among kisans. I hold that the method that some Congressmen have followed to organise kisans has done them no good and has probably harmed them. Anyway they have not used the nonviolent method. Be it said to the credit of some of these workers that they frankly admit that they do not believe in the nonviolent method. My advice to such workers would be that they should neither use the Congress name nor work as Congressmen.

The reader will now understand why I have refrained from the competition to organise kisans and Labour on an all-India basis. How I wish that all hands pulled in the same direction! But perhaps in a huge country like ours it is impossible. Anyway, in nonviolence there is no coercion. Cold reason and demonstration of the working of nonviolence must be trusted to do the work.

In my opinion, like labour, they should have under the Congress, a department working for their specific questions.


Ahmedabad Labour Union is a model for all India to copy. Its basis is nonviolence, pure and simple. It has never had a setback in its career. It has gone on from strength to strength without fuss and without show. It has its hospital, its schools for the children of the mill-hands, its classes for adults, its own printing press and khadi depot, and its own residential quarters. Almost all the hands are voters and decide the fate of elections. They came on the voters list at the instance of the Provincial Congress Committee. The organisation has never taken part in party politics of the Congress. It influences the municipal policy of the city. It has to its credit very successful strikes which were wholly nonviolent. Mill owners and labour have governed their relations largely through voluntary arbitration. If I had my way, I would regulate all the Indian labour organisations after the Ahmedabad model. It has never sought to intrude itself upon the all-India Trade Union Congress and has been uninfluenced by that Congress. I hope a time will come when it will be possible for the Trade Union Congress to accept the Ahmedabad method and have the Ahmedabad organisation as part of the All-India Union. But I am in no hurry. It will come in its own time.


The term adivasi, for tribal peoples such as the raniparaj, is a coined word. Raniparaj means black people (kaliparaj) though their skin is no more black than that of any other. It was coined, I think by Shri Jugatram. (6) The term adivasi for various Gujarati hill tribes such as Bhils and Gonds, means literally ‘original inhabitants’ and was coined, I believe, by Thakkar Bapa. (7)

Service towards adivasis is also a part of the constructive programme. Though they are listed near the end of this programme, they are not the least in importance. Our country is so vast and the races so varied that the best of us cannot know all there is to know of men and their condition. As one discovers this for oneself, one realises how difficult it is to make good our claim: to be one nation, unless every unit has a living consciousness of being one with every other.

There are millions of adivasis in India. Bapa Thakkar began work among the Bhils years ago in Gujarat. In about 1940, Shri Balasaheb Kher threw himself with his usual zeal into this much-needed service in the Thana District [northern Maharashtra state]. He is now President of the Adivasi Seva Mandal. (8)

There are several such other workers in other parts of India and yet they are too few. Truly, ‘the harvest is rich but the labourers are few’. Who can deny that all such service is not merely humanitarian but solidly national, and brings us nearer to true independence?


Leper is a word with a bad odour. India is perhaps a home of lepers next only to Central Africa. Yet they are as much a part of society as the tallest among us. But the tall absorb our attention though they are least in need of it. The lot of the lepers who are much in need of attention is studied neglect. I am tempted to call it heartless, which it certainly is, in terms of nonviolence. It is, largely the missionary who, be it said to his credit, bestows care on the leper. The only institution run by an Indian, as a pure labour of love, is by Shri Manohar Diwan near Wardha. (9) It is working under the inspiration and guidance of Shri Vinoba Bhave.  [See also Note 9] If India was pulsating with new life, if we were all in earnest about winning independence in the quickest manner possible by truthful and nonviolent means, there would not be a leper or beggar in India uncared for and unaccounted for. Here I am deliberately introducing the leper as a link in the chain of constructive effort. What the leper is in India, that we are, if we will but look about us, or around the modern civilised world. Examine the condition of our brethren across the ocean and the truth of my remark will be borne home to us.


I have reserved students to the last. I have always cultivated close contact with them. They know me and I know them. They have given me service. Many ex-collegians are my esteemed co-workers, I know that they are the hope of the future. In the heyday of non-cooperation they were invited to leave their schools and colleges. Some professors and students who responded to the congress call have remained steadfast and gained much for the country and themselves. The call has not been repeated for there is not the atmosphere for it. But experience has shown that the lure of the current education, though it is false and unnatural, is too much for the youth of the country. College education provides a career. It is a passport for entrance to the charmed circle. Pardonable hunger for knowledge cannot be satisfied otherwise than by going through the usual rut. They do not mind the waste of precious years in acquiring knowledge of an utterly foreign language which takes the place of the mother tongue. The sin of it is never felt. They and their teachers have made up their minds that the indigenous languages are useless for gaining access to modern thought and the modern sciences. I wonder how the Japanese are faring. Their education, I understand, is all given in Japanese. The Chinese General Chief of Staff also knows very little, if anything, of English.

But such as the students are, it is from these young men and women that the future leaders of the nation are to arise. Unfortunately they are acted upon by every variety of influence, and nonviolence offers them little attraction. A blow for a blow or two is an easily understandable proposition. It seems to yield immediate result though fleeting. It is a never-ending trial of brute strength, as we see in time of war among brutes or among human beings. Appreciation of nonviolence means patient research and still more patient and difficult practice. I have not entered the list of competitors for students’ support, for the reasons that have dictated my course about Kisans and Labour. But I am myself a fellow student, using the word in its broadest sense. My university is different from theirs. They have a standing invitation from me to come to my university and join me in my search. Here are the terms:

  1.  Students must not take part in party politics. They are students, searchers; not politicians.
  2. They may not resort to political strikes. They must have their heroes, but their devotion to them is to be shown by copying the best in their heroes, not by going on strikes, if the heroes are imprisoned or die or are even sent to the gallows. If their grief is unbearable and if all the students feel equally, schools or colleges may be closed on such occasions, with the consent of their principals. If the principals will not listen, it is open to the students to leave their institutions in becoming manner till the managers repent and recall them. On no account may they use coercion against dissenters or against the authorities. They must have the confidence that, if they are united and dignified in their conduct, they are sure to win.
  3. They must all do voluntary, unpaid spinning in a scientific manner. Their tools shall be always neat, clean, and in good order and condition. If possible, they will learn to make them themselves. Their yarn will naturally be of the highest quality. They will study the literature about spinning with all its economic, social, moral and political implications.
  4. They will be khadi-wearers and use village products to the exclusion of all analogous things, foreign or machine-made.
  5. They may not impose the hymn to the Motherland, the Vande Mataram, or the National Flag on others. They may wear National Flag buttons on their own persons but not force others to do the same.
  6. They can enforce the message of our tricolour flag, but harbour neither communalism nor untouchability in their hearts. They will cultivate real friendship with students of other faiths and with Harijans as if they were their own kith and kin.
  7. They will make it a point to give first aid to their injured neighbours and do scavenging and cleaning in the neighbouring villages and instruct village children and adults.
  8. They will learn the national language, Hindustani, its present double dress, two forms of speech and two scripts, so that they may feel at home whether Hindi or Urdu is spoken and either nagari script or urdu script is written.
  9. They will translate into their own mother tongue everything new they may learn, and transmit it in their weekly rounds to the surrounding villages.
  10. They will do nothing in secret, they will be above board in all their dealings, they will lead a pure life of self-restraint, shed all fear and be always ready to protect their weak fellow students, and ready to quell riots by nonviolent conduct at the risk of their lives. And when the final heat of the struggle comes they will leave their institutions and, if need be, sacrifice themselves for the freedom of their country.
  11. They will be scrupulously correct and chivalrous in their behaviour towards their female fellow students.

For working out the programme I have sketched for them the students must find time. I know that they waste a great deal of time in idleness. By strict economy, they can save many hours. But I do not want to put an undue strain upon any student. Therefore, I would advise patriotic students to lose one year, not at a stretch but spread it over their whole study. They will find that giving one year will not be a waste of time. The effort will add to their equipment, mental, moral and physical, and they will have made even during their studies a substantial contribution to the freedom movement.

Place of Civil Disobedience

I have said here that Civil Disobedience is not absolutely necessary to win freedom through a purely nonviolent effort, if the co-operation of the whole nation is secured in the constructive programme. But such good luck rarely favours nations or individuals. Therefore, it is necessary to know the place of Civil Disobedience in a nation-wide nonviolent effort. It has three definite functions:

  1. It can be effectively offered for the redress of a local wrong.
  2. It can be offered without regard to effect, though aimed at a particular wrong or evil, by way of self-immolation in order to rouse local consciousness or conscience. Such was the case in Champaran when I offered Civil Disobedience without any regard to the effect and well knowing that even the people might remain apathetic. That it proved otherwise may be taken, according to taste, as God’s grace or a stroke of good luck.

Civil Disobedience can never be directed for a general cause, such as Independence.
The issue must be definite, capable of being clearly understood,
and within the power of the opponent to yield.

  1. In the place of full response to constructive effort, it can be offered as it was in 1941. Though it was a contribution to and part of the battle for freedom, it was purposely centred round a particular issue, i.e. free speech. Civil Disobedience can never be directed at a general cause, such as Independence. The issue must be definite, capable of being clearly understood, and within the power of the opponent to yield. This method properly applied must lead to the final goal.

I have not examined here the full scope and possibilities of Civil Disobedience. I have touched enough of it to enable the reader to understand the connection between the constructive programme and Civil Disobedience. In the first two cases, no elaborate constructive programme was or could be necessary. But when Civil Disobedience is itself devised for the attainment of Independence, previous preparation is necessary, and it has to be backed by the visible and conscious effort of those who are engaged in the battle. Civil Disobedience is thus a stimulation for the fighters and a challenge to the opponent. It should be clear to the reader that Civil Disobedience in terms of Independence without the co-operation of the millions by way of constructive effort is mere bravado and worse than useless.


This is not a thesis written on behalf of the Congress or at the insistence of the Central Office. It is the outcome of conversations I had with some co-workers in Sevagram [Gandhi’s ashram]. They had felt the want of something from my pen showing the connection between constructive programme and Civil Disobedience and how the former might be worked. I have endeavoured to supply the want in this pamphlet. It does not purport to be exhaustive, but it is sufficiently indicative of the way the programme should be worked.

Let not the reader make the mistake of laughing at any of the items as being part of the movement for Independence. Many people do many things, big and small, without connecting them with nonviolence or Independence. They have then their limited value as expected. The same man appearing as a civilian may be of no consequence, but appearing in his capacity as general he is a big personage, holding the lives of millions at his mercy. Similarly, the charkha [spinning wheel] in the hands of a poor widow brings a paltry sum to her, while in the hands of Jawaharlal Nehru it becomes a symbol of India’s freedom. It is the office which gives the charkha its dignity. It is the office assigned to the constructive programme which gives it an irresistible prestige and power.

Such is my view. It may be that of a madman. If it makes no appeal to the Congressman, I must be rejected. For my handling of Civil Disobedience without the constructive programme will be like a paralysed hand attempting to lift a spoon.


(1) The Purna Swaraj, to which Gandhi is referring, was a declaration of complete independence from British rule, passed by the Indian National Congress on January 26, 1930.

(2) In 1938 the Indian National Congress established Hindustani Talimi Sangh as an independent group to develop a comprehensive, all India education program.

(3) Sevagram was the ashram Gandhi founded and was living in at this time. The Sangh was the council that governed the ashram through consensus.

(4) The Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was one of Gandhi’s first nonviolent civil resistance campaigns on his return to India from South Africa. The farmers in Champaran were forced to grow indigo, a cash crop, which they had to sell at a low price to the landowners, who in turn sold it on for a high profit. The farmers needed this land to grow food, but the British militia protected the landowners and protest had been brutally suppressed until Gandhi organized one of his first satyagraha campaigns.

(5) Babu Brijkishoreprasad was a prominent lawyer and follower of Gandhi; Babu Rajendra Prasad was an early Gandhi follower and later became the first president of India.

(6) A Gandhi activist who worked mostly with the hill tribes in Gandhi’s home state of Gujarat. See the Wikipedia article for further study.

(7) Thakkar Bapa was also a social worker with the hill tribes of Gujarat. See his Wikipedia article for further study.

(8) Balasaheb Gangadhar Kher became the first president of Bombay State in 1937. It then also included Gujarat.

(9) Shri Manohar Diwan was a doctor whom Gandhi entrusted with the care of lepers in his ashrams. After an encounter with Gandhi he devoted his career to the care of lepers, and was later an early disciple of Vinoba Bhave. See also Mark Shepard’s article about Bhave, which we previously posted.

A NOTE ON THE TEXT: This pamphlet was originally published, as noted in our Preface, on March 11, 1945 (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House; pp 16) in an addition of 5000 copies, and reprinted many times thereafter. Gandhi’s writings are in the public domain, and this document is available from a number of sources. This version is courtesy of as a scanned copy of the original. All the versions that we accessed were scanned from the original; with all of the errors that scanning can bring, of false punctuation marks, misspelled words, et al. No copy that we consulted, including the original, Navajivan edition had been proofread or edited. We have, therefore, collated our text against the original, proofread it, and added endnotes, and annotations in square brackets [] throughout. We hope, therefore, to present here the most accurate and understandable version available. JG

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi